And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity for I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own,
2 Corinthians 8:1-3 (NIV)
The early Christians in Macedonia did not have much in material possessions. By the standards of those who had plenty, the Macedonian churches were in poverty. And yet they were praised for their generosity. If you remember the parable told by Jesus of the widow who gave a tiny donation to the temple as compared to the large amounts the wealthy were giving (Mark 12:41-44), Jesus tells us that the widow's donation was far greater than that of the weatlthy donors. Why? Because she gave all that she had to give, whereas the wealthy only gave a pittance of what they had available to give. The widow's donation was a willing sacrifice to God on her behalf.
This was the example set by the Macedonians. Their gifts may not have seemed great in the eyes of the world, but their attitude and the spirit of their giving sets a high standard for the rest of us. To have little, yet to be able to give joyfully and in a sacrificial manner is what God wants from us. Our blessings come from God and he deserves the first fruits of what we acquire on this earth. It's not because God needs our money or possessions, they are really His anyway, but because God wants us to acknowledge Him as the one who blesses us and to show Him our love. Personal sacrifice is the ultimate expression of love, whether it be for our families, friends. or our country. The supremely ultimate sacrifice is when we turn our lives over to God.
And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will.
2 Corinthians 8:5 (NIV)
The commonly held expectation in our world is "me first". We are advised to "watch out for number one". But really now, who is number one? Are you greater than God? If we trust in God, He will watch out for us. Perhaps it won't always seem obvious to the more short-sighted ones among us. Do the unexpected: Give yourself to the Lord first and do God's will and the rewards will come to you.
Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
fulfill your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honor me."
Psalm 50:14-15 (NIV)
God is not asking us to sacrifice animals on an altar or give up our first born child. God is asking for the living sacrifice of ourselves. God wants the fullness of our being--our hearts, our minds, our bodies, and our souls. We should show our thanks to God and praise him through our good works and with our time as well as our talents. And when we are faithful to Him, God will be faithful to us. Because God has shown his mercy through the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, it is our duty to honor Him with the sacrifice of our lives.
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.
Hebrews 13:15 (NIV)